Can Copenhagen Be Final World Outgames?

by Roger Brigham

Bay Area Reporter

Monday July 27, 2009

World Outgames 2 kicks off a week-long festival of sports, conferences and parties in Copenhagen this weekend, and tight budget monitoring and scaled back operations make it safe to predict the sporting event will not be a financial fiasco on par with World Outgames 1, which three years ago ended in Montreal with a loss of several million dollars.

But speculation is growing that there will be no World Outgames 3.

LGBT sports blogs have been filled in recent weeks with calls for the World Outgames to disband. The official final report for this year's event acknowledges the tough sell organizers faced in a divided LGBT sports market.

The rival Federation of Gay Games was asked by Copenhagen organizers to conduct a panel discussion during the Outgames on the future of the LGBT sports calendar and was reportedly shocked by the heavy interest expressed by others to attend. And an independent public blog devoted solely to the topic of the future of LGBT sports was launched just this week.

"Copenhagen has in half the time, with half the staff, a third of the volunteers and a quarter of the financial resources used in Montreal, (produced) a World Outgames which is just as good as in Canada," according to the 92-page final report on the the OutGames website. "That is what it will be. Not as big, but just as good."

The report is a rare and fascinating glimpse into the organization of a major LGBT sports event. It questions decisions that were made along the way, such as the decision by Denmark and Copenhagen government officials to commit to the event and then outsource so much responsibility; the difficulty of branding a relatively new, unknown brand that combines conferences, parties and sports; and a relative lack of acceptance in a country that sought to use the event to burnish its progressive credentials.

"World Outgames has proven itself to be a tough little bee," the report asserts. "Because in principle, it shouldn't be able to fly. But it does anyway."

The report said organizers realized they would have to make serious cutbacks when American and Canadian athletes were not signing up in 2008 in the numbers they had projected, when the global economy went into a recession, and when it became apparent that non-government funds were not going to be forthcoming.

"Even if the global financial crisis' influence on Danish business - and thus on private foundations - is taken into consideration, it is conspicuous that only one of the large private Danish foundations - the Tuborg Foundation - has wanted to support and therefore give backing to World Outgames," the report said. "It is also disappointing that more Danish companies did not wish to become sponsors for the event."

The report went on to say, "Denmark has no tradition for large companies having - or wanting - loyalty relationships with the LGBT community. Compared to Sweden, Denmark is at least five to ten years behind in this area as well. There are very few serious positive advertisement campaigns which directly address and therefore reflect the needs and interests of the LGBT community. There are far too many examples of Danish companies using 'the homosexual' as a comical element or direct source of ridicule in their advertising. Or as a stereotype - meaning the companies concerned are not taken seriously by the LGBT target group."

Hopes that Montreal's hostile marketing or bankruptcy would not hurt Copenhagen were quickly disproved.

"Due to the large financial loss, the Montreal office was forced to close earlier than expected with the consequence that a manual and summary of their experiences were not written and passed on to GLISA and then Copenhagen," the report said. "So the sports team's best tool was paradoxically enough the report from the Gay Games in Sydney in 2002."

The report did not indicate how Copenhagen organizers obtained the Sydney Gay Games reports, which were the property of the Federation of Gay Games.

The World Outgames are licensed by the Gay & Lesbian International Sports Association, which was created by the Montreal Outgames organizers.

"The contract the city of Copenhagen had signed with GLISA included GLISA making their international sponsorship and media contacts available to the World Outgames secretariat in Copenhagen," the Copenhagen report said. "The secretariat has never received this specialist and organizational support. Primarily because it became apparent that GLISA did not have these contacts. Neither globally nor regionally."

Copenhagen organizers also reported the schism in the LGBT sports world over the creation of the Outgames caught them off-guard.

"However conflicting and thus sensitive the break between Gay Games and World Outgames may have been," the report said, "there was no one in the secretariat who was aware of it when the secretariat was established. But relatively soon, it became clear for everyone that the divorce between Gay Games and World Outgames would follow the project like a dark shadow - right up to the actual week when the event would be held."

Which would be ... now.

The FGG reported that Copenhagen organizers approached it to host a panel discussion on a subject of its choice. Invitations were put out to LGBT sports and cultural groups two weeks ago to participate in the discussion on "The Future of LGBT Sport & Culture," and several organizations, including Team San Francisco, began preparing position papers to be presented in Copenhagen Monday, July 27.

But who will be able to attend the conference was not clear as of press time, because most of the respondents who planned to be in Copenhagen for the Outgames sports competitions were not registered for the conferences. That would be another 1,200 Danish kroner ($230 US), a prohibitive sum for many cash-strapped athletes and organizations.

FGG Co-President Emy Ritt, who will be moderating the panel discussion, vowed to do everything possible to persuade organizers to allow sports participants into the conference, and that FGG representatives would meet one way or another with anyone who is denied access.

"We will do everything we can to make this meeting happen. We'll do our best to gain entry for everyone who wants to enter," Ritt told the Bay Area Reporter. "We didn't think anybody would care. We were surprised at the response we got. We had no idea there would be people who would want to come."

In addition to several of the international LGBT sports organizations, Ritt said the FGG had received inquiries from clubs with Team Berlin and athletes from Bulgaria and Croatia.

Team San Francisco is hoping board members Gene Dermody and Ken Craig will be able to present a six-paragraph resolution the organization adopted at a board meeting last week. While calling for a restoration of EuroGames events that have been bumped by the creation of the World Outgames and encouraging GLISA to continue to work to develop continental Outgames in underserved parts of the globe, Team SF said, "We believe that the World Outgames have created a dispersal of athlete and sponsor support that threatens the unity and vitality of the LGBT sports global community."

The statement adds that Team San Francisco does not have the resources to support future World Outgames without "a serious dilution" of its Gay Games efforts. It calls for the "long established and internationally recognized Gay Games" to be the only quadrennial global LGBT multi-sport and cultural event starting in 2010.

"We shall work diligently to make those games as successful as possible and focus our efforts on bringing athletes and cultural participants together for the Gay Games," states the resolution.

The Copenhagen session is just one of many discussions that have taken place since the creation of the Outgames, and another is planned for Cologne at GGVIII, Ritt said.

"All members of the LGBT sport and culture community should be assured that all concerned parties are very serious and working very hard to find solutions to the issues raised by the LGBT sports and culture community," she said.

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